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November 16th, 2007
Higher Education Act Passes House Committee

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the House Education and Labor Committee unanimously passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007. 

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act is a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the primary law aimed at expanding college access for low- and middle-income students.

“High college prices and other obstacles are putting a college degree further out of reach for our students,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee.  “The College Opportunity and Affordability Act will reform our higher education system so that it operates in the best interests of students and keeps our promise of making college more affordable for America’s low and middle-income families”.

The base bill highlighted several provisions drafted by Rep. Grijalva including establishing a demonstration program and Commission on instructional materials accessibility for college students with print-disabilities. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Association of Publishers both supported this provision.

Additionally, Rep. Grijalva successfully expanded the eligibility requirements for Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG) and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART Grants) to part-time students and legal permanent residents. Under current law, over 7 million community college students are automatically excluded from ACG eligibility just because they are part-time. At Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, only one student out of 898 students identified for ACG received the grant in 2006.

During committee consideration of HR 4137, Rep. Grijalva introduced an amendment changing the cohort default rate (CDR) calculation window for student loans and requiring student loan counseling by lenders, the Department of Education, and colleges on appropriate repayment options for students. The CDR change requires the Department of Education to look at three years instead of just two years when calculating the default rate for colleges who receive federal aid.  The CDR informs Congress and the Department about retention rates, debt burden, and taxpayer costs among other indicators of school performance. The amendment was unanimously accepted.  

“I am pleased that my colleagues unanimously accepted this important amendment as it will more accurately inform us about how well colleges and lenders are supporting our students both during college and after graduation,” said Grijalva.

In addition, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act would:

    Streamline the federal student financial aid application to make it easier for all eligible students, especially from low-income households, to apply for financial aid; Make textbook costs more manageable for students by helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester; Expand college access for low-income and minority students by allowing students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships and strengthening college readiness programs; Increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families to help veterans, active duty military personnel, and their family members attend college and succeed; Create safer college campuses for students and faculty by developing campus safety and disaster readiness plans for all colleges and helping schools recover and rebuild in the event of a disaster;  Ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities to provide them with the resources and support they need to stay in school and graduate; and Help strengthen our nation’s workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities, by providing public service loan forgiveness to encourage and reward students who enter critically needed service fields and by enhancing teacher training and development programs.

 This legislation is the second of two major higher education bills introduced this year. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act was signed into law in September.

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